Shock Verdict on Swissair

Switzerland's biggest-ever corporate crime trial ends with the acquittal of 19 former airline executives

The most spectacular trial in Swiss business history has ended with a surprising verdict. Former Swissair executives accused of criminal wrongdoing in connection with the collapse of the airline have walked free -- and are even to receive compensation.

Swissair was grounded in 2001, now its former executives have been acquitted of criminal wrongdoing in connection with its collapse.

Switzerland's biggest ever corporate crime trial has ended with the acquittal of all 19 accused. The former Swissair executives had been charged with criminal wrongdoing in connection with the collapse the nation's flagship airline. But the prosecution failed to make its case.

The Chief Judge Andreas Fischer acquitted the group's last president Mario Conti and his co-defendants on Thursday, and awarded them more than 2.4 million Swiss francs (€1.5 million) in compensation.

The prosecution had accused the former managers of damaging creditors, mismanagement, making false business statements and forging documents, and had been asking for sentences of between six and 28 months. But the judges were not convinced. "There is no evidence that the defendants knowingly acted to damage the company," Fischer said.

Swissair collapsed in 2001 with debts of 17 billion Swiss francs, (€11.5 billion) due in part to the downturn in the industry, as well as the airline's aggressive international expansion. The Swiss carrier had long been regarded as an icon of national reliability, quality and efficiency, so the Swiss were shocked when it was suddenly grounded on Oct. 2, 2001, due to its inability to pay for fuel and landing charges.

Thousands of Swissair employees and shareholders saw their life savings suddenly wiped out when the company collapsed, and some trade unions reacted with anger to Thursday's verdict.

Urs Eicher, speaking on behalf of a flight attendants union, criticized the high compensation sums, which will be paid for by the taxpayers. "Those who suffered real damage, the small people who lost jobs or pension funds...will get nothing," he told Swiss TV.